[quote style=”boxed”]Beats, rhythms, and swaying your body changes your brain. Changing brain waves changes your mood.[/quote]
I have a friend who often says, “We live in interesting times,” He’s right. But things have been a little too interesting lately. You know things are bad when a gal comes into YOGA and starts talking about the European money markets. On that note, our leader took us right into relaxation poses rather than our usual stretches.
Another powerful way to calm a stressed brain is with upbeat, steady music. Beats, rhythms, and swaying your body changes your brain. Changing brain waves changes your mood. The “Escape” album by Enrique Iglesias does wonders for my mood. Put it on in your car, with volume up loud, and start swaying. I promise, you will feel your emotions blast off, in a good way!
*I love this song “Don’t Turn Off The Lights”
I spent the last eight years researching and writing about finding your inner happy. As a counselor, professor, and author I am constantly immersed in positive psychology literature. I’ve compiled this research under the topic of self-care. My passion as a counselor and writer is to help people like you learn positive responses to coping with stress and to give yourself permission to care for yourself in order to minimize the negative effects on you and on others. My book Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World released six weeks ago.
I gave a copy of my book to a friend who recently admitted she thought self care was for wimps. She was tough and didn’t think she needed my book. This is the text she sent me after reading it:
“While on spring break last week I sat down to start your book. I finished it before I went to bed. It has changed my life. You have no idea the timing for this, the work I have been doing to get healthy and how this has become my manual to keep me accountable. I have never read anything near as good and I am a bit upset it took them so long to publish it. God has changed me forever through you!”
Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is about taking control of your own health and happiness. By being in control you stay healthy and put yourself in charge of making sure you have a good quality of life. Taking good care of yourself means the people in your life receive the best of you rather than what is left of you.
My book is jam packed with emotional, spiritual, and physical self-care tips. Here are just a few:
Do What You Love
Happiness expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did an interesting study where subjects who were randomly beeped had to write down what they were doing and how happy they were. He found that people were not happiest during leisure time, as would be expected. Instead they were happiest when they were doing an activity where they felt challenged yet in which they excelled; oftentimes it was work. Researchers call this state “flow,” and I talk more about it in the book.
It makes sense that if you want to feel good about yourself, you will spend the vast majority of your time doing what you love. What activities do you really enjoy? When do you lose track of time because you are doing something so enjoyable that you are caught up in a sense of timelessness? When do you feel you are doing what you were born to do? My friend Danica experiences much pleasure in the simple art of knitting. For Michele, it’s running a quiet trail; and for Antje, it’s reading comics. Recently I was at a speaker training and heard comedian Bob Stromberg say he often sits in his sauna with music and gets so caught up in thinking of creative ideas that he won’t realize an hour has gone by. If you want to be happy, do what you’re good at and do what you love. Not sure what your strengths or interests are? There are lots of strengths finder books and online tests. One is StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
Develop a Strong Sense of Self
Problems and stress are a regular part of life. But have you noticed that some people seem better equipped to deal with difficult relationships and the stressors of life? For example, I used to wake up and wonder where the day’s problems and my mood were going to take me. I felt trapped by unhealthy relationships, poor interpersonal boundaries, and unpredictable emotions. Life overwhelmed me. On the other hand, I had a friend who could be in the midst of all sorts of drama and tension in his work place. He would smile, giggle, and say lightheartedly, “I love my job.”
People who have a strong sense of self have a zest for living; they are able to handle stress and bounce back from adversity. They have a sense of meaning in their lives. They are flexible and able to adapt to change. They have a healthy balance between work and play, and they have self-confidence and high self-esteem.
Having a healthy sense of self also means having an accurate, realistic, and authentic awareness of who you are and being able to see your inherent worthiness. I’m not talking about the kind of ego that causes one to think she is better than others. Instead, someone with a strong sense of self recognizes her strengths, weaknesses, values, likes, and dislikes. A healthy sense of self is required for effective communication, interpersonal relations, and being able to have empathy for others. (In the book I give lots of information about how we fail to get a strong sense of self and what to do if we lack it.)
Learn How to Set Boundaries
A person with healthy boundaries is able to identify what she thinks and feels about something, but those with unhealthy boundaries often allow others to tell them what they think or feel. A person with healthy boundaries is able to control how she reacts, and she is able to distinguish between her own emotions, opinions, and behaviors and those of others, and take responsibility for them. She does not blame others for how she thinks, feels, or behaves. She is very clear where she ends and another person begins and maintains that line. She is able to stand up for herself calmly and intelligently without desperation, intimidation, or manipulation.
I used to think people who had clear boundaries were mean and nasty, and people who accommodated everybody else’s whim were “Christian.” But I’ve come to admire people with clear-cut boundaries because there are no mixed messages, no mind games, and no guessing involved.
When my kids were small, I telephoned Gina to see if she could watch them while I went to an appointment. She sighed deeply and mumbled, “Well…I guess…” I took my children to her house but worried about them the entire time I was gone. I could tell she hadn’t really wanted extra children that day; but like me, Gina was a pleaser who couldn’t say no. Her inability to set strong, clear boundaries had the effect of making me feel oddly unsafe and uncomfortable.
Juxtapose that incident with another: Whenever I asked a favorite teacher if I could stop by for a visit, he clearly stated a yes or a no, with little explanation. I always felt safe asking, because I knew he wouldn’t see me just because I wanted to visit. He knew how to protect his time. His ability to set concise, clear boundaries made me feel safe to ask things of him. Of course, it helps to state boundaries with a kind tone of voice; there’s rarely a need to be harsh or rude.
Make Space for Solitude
Professor William Deresiewicz tells the incoming students at the United States Military Class at West Point, “If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.” Though it sounds like a contradiction because we imagine leaders surrounding themselves with people, Deresiewicz tells the future leaders that solitude will be the thing they have the least of, but it is the most necessary ingredient for true leadership. Solitude is the time when we disengage from the immediate demands of other people, experience a reduction of social inhibition, and select our own activities, including creative thinking. For most people, solitude is sparse–so sparse that silence is a powerful means of capturing our attention. We see this in a whole series of Corona Beer commercials where the only sound is the quiet waves, a seagull caw, and the quiet spritz of a bottle being opened http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDJSueRRUzs ; or the Chevy Volt car as it meanders quietly through the landscape: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-m0J-SFavM
Our world is radically changing into noisy interruptions and sound bites that are rewiring our brains. Many of us spend hours on computers, interacting with others all day long. Some estimate that 30 to 40 percent of people’s time in the workplace is spent tending to unplanned interruptions, and then trying to refocus. Because technology is taking away our ability to be alone, we have less and less time to think and feel. Instead of marinating in our own thoughts long enough to have an idea, we bombard our brains with the thoughts of others; and those around us powerfully influence our decisions.
How can people be creative when they can’t find space and time to think? Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop your own idea about it. Only by concentrating, focusing, and being patient do we arrive at an original idea. Concentration can’t happen between the TV, magazine, satellite radio, iPod, email, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Right now, I am trying to write a simple sentence about the decline of creativity in the United States. In trying to convey a point about solitude and its importance to creativity, I can’t think because I’m staring at my to-do list and emails that pop onto on my computer screen. And my phone just started ringing.
Recently one of my son’s friends—a freshman at the University of Colorado—invited me to sit in on his Psychology course. It had been two and half decades since I had been a student in the very same auditorium, and a lot had changed. As the chairs filled up, almost every student flipped open a laptop and there was a steady barrage of talking. I anticipated the room would quiet down and the students would begin taking notes on their computers. Wrong! Instead I saw Facebook pages, videogames, and sports cars racing across screens. About halfway through the class, laptops were folded shut and students took notes in old-fashioned notebooks. The computers had simply been a means for them to connect with their peers at the same time they were attending class.
I couldn’t believe how much the world had changed, and I was impressed at their ability to multitask. Yet, shortly after that experience, I read about a study led by a team of researchers at Stanford University who wanted to understand how today’s college students multitask so much more efficiently than adults. What did the research conclude? The study found the more young people multitask, the worse they performed on mental tasks. The “high multitaskers” were unable to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, and they were also more easily distracted.
Make Sure You Play
In 1966, psychiatrist Stuart Brown, was one of several experts asked to determine what caused Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower Sniper to kill his mother and wife, along with 14 others in a 90-minute shooting spree. (In addition to those, he wounded 32 others at the University of Texas in Austin.) What did Brown and his colleagues discover about Whitman? An abusive father had beaten Whitman’s natural tendency for play out of him. When he was a child, young Whitman was forced to practice piano and perform for his father’s friends. He grew up in a rigid, joyless atmosphere, deprived of opportunities for play.
Brown became convinced that play is not trivial. The great paradox of play is that it is purposeless, yet there are immense psychological, social, and physical benefits. Brown spent many more years studying male murderers within the prison system of Texas. Time after time he found this specific population had been deprived or had abnormal play situations. His 45-plus years of research convinced him that play teaches us how to be more flexible and adaptable. It teaches us how to role-play, react to stress, become resilient, blow off steam, problem-solve, and imagine. It is key to helping us learn to regulate our emotions. Imaginary games prepare us for stressful scenarios in life—we learn to develop humor in a world we can’t control. Play seems to be necessary for the developing the trust, cooperation, and common goal-setting that are essential for community.
During times of stress we need more play. Dr. Mark Epstein, in his book Open to Desire shares a story of living in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. The worst wreckage was right outside his family’s window, and for months they had to pass through police and army checkpoints. Worry and agitation were a normal part of their day. On a prior trip to Tucson, Dr. Epstein’s young son acquired a stuffed animal named Hoss. The animal became a transitional object—a bridge to conversation—between father and son. Father would speak in a western accent, as if he were the stuffed animal talking.
A couple of nights after the terrorist attack, with sirens blaring below their home, the boy said to his toy, “Hey Hoss, did you hear what happened to the World Trade Center?” Dr. Epstein suddenly became alert and responded in a western accent as if he were the speaking: “Can’t say I have, Little Pardner. What happened to the World Trade Center?” After his son relayed the horrible events, Hoss (Dr. Epstein) answered, “What are you talking about, Little Pardner? Terrorists, hijackings, buildings collapsing! Listen to you. What kind of imagination do you have? People don’t fly airplanes into skyscrapers, you know that!” The playful interaction was a way for father and son to process the unimaginable events. In an emotional release they experienced the first laughter since the Twin Towers came down. Epstein said, “While trauma and threat tend to take away the desire for playfulness, they intensify the need for it.” He goes on to say that, “Play is one of those things, like dreaming, that seems superfluous but that we cannot seem to live without.”
At some deep level you must know that it is time to consider your own health and you are ready to enjoy your life and your family and find your way to that beautiful word: balance. I applaud you for recognizing that, and I look forward to sharing life-changing strategies to help you better care for yourself in the pages and days to come. Maybe you’ll even put Enrique on your stereo and sing “You. Can. Take. My. Breath-ay-way.”
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About the author
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty professor at Colorado Christian University.
She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice.”